Something’s cooking in the kitchen here at Kings Dominion and we’re 100% sure it’s our new Executive Chef, Denis Callinan! With an extensive and impressive culinary background, we are thrilled to welcome Denis and his expertise to Doswell as we continue to come up with savory flavors and delicious options for our guests. Get to know Denis and what to expect in the coming seasons from him as we dive into a culinary Q&A session below!
Tell us a little about your work background
I knew long before I attended the Culinary Institute of America that I wanted to pursue a career in the culinary arts. Since a teenager I have turned a simple love for cooking into a passion for high volume operations. Some of my biggest projects in my 30 years of culinary work experience include Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Fulton’s Crab House (In Downtown Disney), The College of William and Mary, and The University of Virginia. Throughout my career I have designed multiple kitchens and concepts, as well as training and mentoring kitchen staff and chefs to help them reach their goals. I am known for helping companies save money on food cost, while maintaining flavor and creativity, and my sustainability efforts through smart local procurement purchasing. I am excited to be back in the theme park scene and I hope that my experience will have a positive impact on the park and its guests.
What led you to the Executive Chef position at Kings Dominion?
I missed the thrill and challenge of working in a theme park from my Disney days. When I saw the posting, I immediately applied. Working in such a big facility is exciting to me.
What are you looking forward to working on while here at Kings Dominion?
I’m looking forward to integrating Virginian flair and American cuisine into the food as well as inspiring associates to offer our guests a top-notch dining experience.
Where did you learn to cook?
I attended the world-renowned Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and graduated in ‘95. Since then I have returned to my alma mater to complete ProChef II and III, which are intense exams that focus on complex skills in the culinary arts and all types of International cuisine.
What do you love about cooking?
When I invest lots of time, energy, and creativity into a dish and get to witness my family, friends, and/or guests’ enjoyment with them at the table.
What is your philosophy when it comes to food/cooking?
Technique is the secret to a great recipe. It’s not always about the ingredients in a dish, but the precise execution and layers of flavor.
What is your signature meal/item?
I wouldn’t say that I necessarily have a “signature” dish. In my experience, I have found the most success in understanding the nature of your customers and what they are looking for. Although I don’t have a signature dish per se, I do have a signature style: Precise and traditional to the culture where the dish came from.
Favorite items to cook?
I love cooking seafood…I make a mean crab cake.
How has the transition been as you’ve started your new position here?
I have been learning a lot about Kings Dominion and the Cedar Fair company culture and making adjustments in what I am accustomed to. It has been a lot of walking and great exercise! As a chef I am used to being on my feet all day, but I get a lot more steps in here than ever before.
What would you like guests to know about your plans moving forward in the food department here at Kings Dominion?
I hope for improvement in the quality and diversity of food here at Kings Dominion. I want there to be food available to every guest’s taste and satisfaction.
Favorite amusement park food?
Funnel Cake is essential to the theme park experience. During a long day of riding different rides, I always crave the sugary, oily heaven of a funnel cake.
Favorite ride at Kings Dominion?
My favorite ride at Kings Dominion is the Intimidator 305. My children make me ride it with them several times in a row every time we visit Kings Dominion.
Stay tuned for delectable dishes to come from our new Executive Chef, Denis. We hope you are just as excited as we are to welcome him to the park! For the latest updates on all things Kings Dominion, follow us on social media @kingsdominionva and our Blog.